Who’s in the Early Running for a James Beard Award?

Every spring, the food world comes together in New York to celebrate its brightest stars at the James Beard Awards. This year’s ceremony will happen May 3 at Avery Fisher Hall, and finalists will be announced on March 22. But who’s in the early running for a medal? Here are the Washington folks who have made the semi-final cut.

Outstanding Restaurateur: Ashok Bajaj
It’s been a good year for the restaurateur behind seven DC spots. He successfully revamped 701 and opened the glittery Italian dining room Bibiana. Two of his other restaurants—the Oval Room and Rasika—made the top ten of our ranked 100 Very Best Restaurants list. Can he beat out big names such as Philadelphia’s Stephen Starr, Seattle’s Tom Douglas, and New York’s Keith McNally?

Outstanding Chef: José Andrés
The kinetic Spanish chef/restaurateur behind seven area restaurants is being singled out for his work at Minibar, his six-seat culinary thrill-ride on the second floor of Café Atlántico. If Andrés makes the final cut, it’ll be the third year in a row he’ll be up for the same award. Among the contenders are a few other frequent nominees: Philadelphia’s Marc Vetri, Los Angeles’s Suzanne Goin and Mark Peel, and New Yorker (and Top Chef judge) Tom Colicchio.

Outstanding Restaurant: Vidalia

This downtown Southern dining room’s chef de cuisine, R.J. Cooper, took the award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2007. But this is a national category, and the restaurant is up against some stiff competition: Daniel and Babbo in New York, Vetri in Philadelphia, Boulevard in San Francisco, and Bouchon in Yountville.

Rising Star Chef: Johnny Monis
If Monis makes it to the finals, it’ll be the third time the wunderkind chef/owner of Komi is up for the honor. We consider his star to be pretty bright: For the second year in a row, we named Komi the number-one best restaurant in Washington.

Best New Restaurant:
It’s no surprise to see J&G Steakhouse—Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s tastefully chic, consistently excellent dining room in the W Hotel—in the running. But we didn’t expect to find Eventide, the black-chandeliered but casual Clarendon restaurant/lounge or the elegant but off-the-beaten-path Trummer’s on Main, which brought fine dining to Clifton.

Outstanding Pastry Chef: Amanda Cook

The CityZen pastry chef has proven there’s much more to her than a great Parker House roll. Also in the category are Nicole Plue of Yountville’s Redd and Hedy Goldsmith of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami.

Outstanding Wine Service: Restaurant Eve
Sommelier/cocktail king Todd Thrasher has made this Old Town restaurant one of the most interesting places to drink in the area—if not the country. Will it best major-leaguers such as Alinea in Chicago, A16 in San Francisco, and Jean-Georges in Manhattan?

Outstanding Wine and Sprits Professional: Derek Brown
Antique-cocktail aficionado Brown is behind the downtown DC bar the Passenger, which is so self-assured it doesn’t even offer a drinks list; customers give the servers a few buzzwords (refreshing, cucumber) and the bartenders freestyle away.

Outstanding Service: Marcel’s
Robert Wiedmaier’s West End dining room is a supremely polished, old-guard throwback with cars to take customers to the Kennedy Center and a tray of reading glasses for diners who’ve forgotten their own.

Best Chef Mid-Atlantic:

This is traditionally the category where locals have the most luck. This year, Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant Eve), Tony Conte (Oval Room), Peter Pastan (Obelisk), Vikram Sunderam (Rasika), and Top Chef runner-up Bryan Voltaggio (Volt) are in contention. CityZen’s Eric Ziebold snagged the honor last year.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.